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Qurʾānic Discourse on the Bible

Ambivalence and tarīf in the Light of Self-Reference
Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau
p. 3-38

Résumés

La notion islamique de tarīf (« falsification », « altération ») des Écritures juives et chrétiennes est étudiée ici, dans le cadre coranique, au-delà du débat habituel qui se limite à déterminer si les quatre versets coraniques concernés établissent ou non une falsification physique de la Bible. Je montre d’abord que le discours coranique construit une argumentation qui mène à deux idées apparemment contradictoires : louange du statut élevé des Écritures précédentes comme authentiquement révélées, et en même temps, disqualification de ces mêmes Écritures, implicite mais néanmoins puissante. Je pose ensuite que l’idée de tarīf de la Bible s’est développée dans l’esprit des lecteurs/auditeurs du Coran comme moyen logique de tenir les deux bouts de ce paradoxe. En retour, le but de ce discours, qu’on peut qualifier de « louange-avec-disqualification », n’était pas de décrire la Bible mais de revêtir le Coran d’un statut d’autorité – ce qui, précisément, passe par cette relation ambivalente avec la Bible.

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I. Introduction1

  • 1  This article is an expanded version of a paper delivered at the Society of Biblical Literature Ann (...)
  • 2 Greifenhagen, “Scripture Wars”.

1One of the most challenging questions within the interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Christians, as well as between Muslims and Jews, is that of the status of each community’s sacred scriptures in the eyes of the other community; and most particularly, the presence of the Islamic notion of ‘falsification of the Bible’ (tarīf). This notion is usually understood as meaning that Jews (and Christians) altered their own sacred scriptures brought to them by God, turning away from His message. Indeed, this notion may damage the dialogue and, at times, generate mutual violence. An example of this can be observed in conflicting websites, where sacred scriptures of Jews, Christians, and Muslims appear as ‘scriptures at war’ with one another.2

  • 3 Nickel, Narratives of Tampering, p. 1.

2The notion of biblical falsification is said by part of scholars as originating in the Qurʾān, whereas others claim the accusation appeared later as a result of interreligious conflicts.3 In this article, I reconsider the qurʾānic discourse and how it may have led to the development of the idea of biblical falsification. A first glance at the qurʾānic verses usually studied when the question of tarīf is debated will lead me to introduce the importance of considering not only these few verses but also the whole corpus. Indeed, exploring the whole qurʾānic argumentation concerning sacred scriptures, trying to reach ‘the author(s)’(s) aim’ in this matter, enables the unearthing of a paradoxical discourse on previous scriptures—which then puts to the fore a new origin (and a new meaning) for the notion of biblical falsification.

II. Usual Debates on the Qurʾānic Notion of tarīf

  • 4 Lowin, “Revision and Alteration”, p. 451; Whittingham, “The Value of taḥrīf maʿnawī (corrupt interp (...)

3Discussions about this question, both within Islam and, for instance, in Christian circles trying to understand Islam, generally address how it is presented in the Qurʾān. Most of the time, though, the study of this question is usually limited to a debate over the vocabulary and syntax of the four qurʾānic verses employing the verb arrafa (see below), a verb from which stems the verbal noun tarīf used in the Islamic exegetical tradition to refer to biblical falsification. This verb is usually understood in the Islamic tradition to mean either ‘physical alteration of the text’, i.e. to erase or rewrite part of the text: tarīf al-naṣṣ (‘falsification of the text’, also tarīf lafī), or ‘changing of the meaning of the words’: tarīf maʿnawī (‘falsification of the meaning’, ‘corrupt interpretation’).4 Respectively, these interpretations lead one to believe either in the falsification by Jews and Christians of the text of their own sacred scriptures, or merely in ‘wrong’ scriptural exegesis by Jews and Christians.

4Moderate Muslims, and generally those who seek a peaceful encounter with Christians and Jews, usually choose the latter: the falsification of the meaning, i.e. the tarīf maʿnawī option. Such is usually, too, the choice made in the discourse of non-Muslim people active in peace movements and interreligious dialogue. By contrast, more radical Muslims and Muslims who feel threatened in their identity may usually choose the tarīf al-naṣṣ option, as well as the strict trends of thought outside Islam that build their discourse on the fear of Islam.

  • 5 Arabic-speaking Christians call Jesus Yasūʿ and Arabic-speaking Muslims call him ʿĪsā.

5Moreover, the tarīf question is far from being a remote theological question: Besides its obvious ‘interreligious and intercultural dialogue’ political dimensions, in Islamic countries it may just pop up in ordinary life. Allow me to give an anecdote here: as I was working at the Idéo library in Cairo, I went out to buy a taʿmiyya sandwich in a small restaurant. Without me bringing the subject up, and probably because I seemed foreign, and assuming foreigners had to be Christian believers, the shopkeeper started talking to me about the fact that Muslims call Jesus ʿĪsā and the Christians call him Yasūʿ,5 and asked me what was the name Jesus actually had in the original Gospel that God had sent down upon him. As I was explaining that historically the Gospels were first written in Greek, some other customer bluntly cut off our conversation by telling him: el-ingīl betāʿ-hom muarraf! (‘Their Gospel is corrupted!’). He was probably trying to spare his co-religionist from hearing a non-Islamic vision of the Gospel, or as if my answer was a proof of this very tarīf. I managed to turn the conversation around to a more peaceful tone by saying in agreement that, yes, according to a common Islamic vision, the Gospel the Christians have in their possession is corrupted, contrary to the original one that had been sent down by God to the prophet Jesus, but that, according to history, it had first been written in Greek by groups of disciples, and then canonized. I added that these disciples according to the Christian, vision, had been guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, etc., and said that therefore there were different visions of the Gospel, in opposition to each other. This anecdote reveals how the tarīf question may still raise concerns in present daily life.

6It would be tempting to try to determine which of the two interpretations of the notion of tarīf is ‘the correct one’. This is not what will be done in this article: centuries of study of the text have sustained both interpretations. In fact, when looking at the qurʾānic verses on which this whole debate usually focuses, no decisive argument in favor of any one of the two interpretations emerges. Let us nevertheless cast a glance at the verses, as a reminder.

  • 6 Reynolds, “On the Qurʾanic Accusation of Scriptural Falsification”, p. 194.
  • 7 Gril, “Livres saints”, p. 488.

7There are four verses employing the verb arrafa (Q II, 75; Q IV, 46; Q V, 13, 41); its verbal noun tarīf, however, is not used in the Qurʾān. The verb arrafa literally means ‘to change, to trouble, to twist, to turn’. Especially when used in conjunction with ‘an mawāiʿihi, ‘of their places’ (which is the case in three of the four verses), arrafa could mean ‘to change places’ and ‘to invert the order of the words’, that is, to ‘alter or to modify the text’, and this would be tarīf al-naṣṣ. Or, it could mean ‘to take out of its context’,6 ‘to change sides’,7 ‘to distort the meaning’, and then would refer to a loose or wrong interpretation of the text (tarīf maʿnawī). Both options have been included in the translations below:

  • 8 يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ وَنَسُوا حَظًّا مِمَّا ذُكِّرُوا بِهِ وَلاَ تَزَالُ تَطَّل (...)

They [the Sons of Israel] change the words from their places/distort the meanings of the words (verb arrafa), and have forgotten some of what they were reminded of. You [prophet] will always find treachery in all but a few of them. Overlook this and pardon them: God loves those who do good. (Q V, 13b).8

  • 9 يَا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ لاَ يَحْزُنْكَ الَّذِينَ يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْكُفْرِ مِنَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا (...)

Messenger, do not be grieved by those who rush into disbelief —from among those who say with their mouths, “We believe”, but their hearts do not believe, and among the Jews who listen to lies and to other people who did not come to you—; They [the disbelievers/the Jews/the people] change the words from some of their places/distort the meanings of the words (verb arrafa), and say, “If you are given this ruling, accept it, but if you are not, beware!” They whom God intends to be misguided, you will be powerless against God on their behalf. These are the ones whose hearts God does not intend to cleanse—a disgrace for them in this world, and then a heavy punishment in the hereafter (Q V, 41).9

  • 10 أَفَتَطْمَعُونَ أَنْ يُؤْمِنُوا لَكُمْ وَقَدْ كَانَ فَرِيقٌ مِنْهُمْ يَسْمَعُونَ كَلاَمَ اللَّهِ ثُ (...)

So can you [believers] hope that such people [the people of Moses] will believe you, when some of them used to hear the words of God and then deliberately twist/change them (verb arrafa), after they had understood them? (…) Some of them are pagans and know the Scripture only through wishful thinking. They are only mulling over it [by themselves, guessing, not relying on the true meaning]. So woe to those who write the Scripture down with their own hands and then claim, “This is from God”, in order to make some small gain. Woe to them for what their hands have written! Woe to them for all that they have earned! (Q II, 75, 78‒79).10

  • 11 مِنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا (...)

Some Jews change the words from their places/distort the meanings of the words (verb arrafa): They say, “We have heard and we have disobeyed” and a “Listen” which cannot be heard, and “Favor us”, twisting it abusively with their tongues and disparaging religion. If they had said, “We have heard and we have obeyed”, “Listen” and “look at us [have mercy on us]”, that would have been better and more proper for them. But God has spurned them for their defiance; they believe very little (Q IV, 46).11

8The textual context of Q V, 13 is that the text denounces the fact that the Jews have betrayed their covenant with God. The accusation then takes over a general topic already present in the biblical corpus: the people of Israel are called to come back to the covenant that had been previously given by God. This would be most plausibly, but not for sure, tarīf maʿnawī. The context also indicates that the opponents to the prophet are not only moving the words from their place (or taking them out of their context) but also forgetting some words: maybe this is about the Torah, or maybe not.

9In Q V, 41, it is about some lie that has been said to some Jews by foreign people who do not believe Muhammad—and the lie is created by changing/turning the words from their place (then tarīf al-naṣṣ) or from their context, (then tarīf maʿnawī), but we do not know if this is about the Torah.

10Q II, 75‒79 deals with the writing down of the Word of God that was orally transmitted to some bad people: this writing down was perverted (tarīf al-naṣṣ). Verse 78 also mentions people ‘from them’ (from the Jews?) accused of being pagans and of mulling over it: it seems that these people are accused of tarīf maʿnawī or, at least, of ignorance of the true meaning of the scripture.

11Thus, of these three passages, only the last one clearly mentions a written version that is corrupted, while the others leave both possibilities open. Furthermore, it is not fully certain that this is about the transmission of the Torah, even though the context seems to indicate this, as the people mentioned are Jews, except for the people accused of being ‘pagans’ in Q II, 78—but these ‘pagans’ are stated to be from among the Jews.

  • 12 Gobillot, “L’abrogation selon le Coran”, for all the analysis of this verse.
  • 13 וְשָׁמַעְנוּ וְעָשִׂינוּ . Gobillot (“L’abrogation selon le Coran”, p. 215) rightly remarks that S (...)
  • 14 כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה.
  • 15 Newby, “Forgery”, p. 243.
  • 16  This difficulty to identify the biblical passage mostly comes from the fact that most translators (...)
  • 17 שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל.
  • 18 I suggest it could be the opposite, something like an asmaʿ pronounced in the šema way, thus, sema(...)
  • 19 لاَ تَقُولُواْ رَاعِنَا وَقُولُواْ انظُرْنَا وَاسْمَعُوا.
  • 20 Generally, until today, asmaʿ ġayra musmaʿ is understood and translated as ‘Listen may you not hea (...)

12The fourth passage, Q IV, 46, provides three examples of quotations that are said to come from the scriptures of the Jews. Let us present here the detailed hypothesis brightly suggested by Geneviève Gobillot.12 The text first provides the example of the excerpt samiʿnā wa aaʿ, ‘we have listened and we have obeyed’, which is very likely derived from Midrashic material concerning one of the two following biblical texts: Deuteronomy 5: 27 “We will hear it and do it”,13 or Exodus 19: 8 “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do!”14 This quotation is repeated several times in the Qurʾān as a sentence pronounced by pious believers (Q II, 93, 285; Q V, 7; Q XXIV, 51). Here, the Qurʾān says it has been badly transcribed or translated as samiʿnā wa-ʿaaynā, ‘we have listened and we have disobeyed’. What is probably implied by the text is that the reason for the mistake is the close connection between the Hebrew verb ʿasah, ‘to do, to accomplish’ and the Arabic verb ʿaā ‘to disobey’.15 The text in Q IV, 46 then moves on to another biblical quotation: the word asmaʿ. Whereas most translators hesitate about which biblical excerpt this refers to,16 Gobillot suggests that asmaʿ would simply be the famous sentence šemaʿ Israel ‘hear O Israel’17 which, in the Torah, precedes the detailed announcement of all the statutes and ordinances given by God to the Hebrews via Moses (Deuteronomy 5: 1). The qurʾānic text states that asmaʿ, ‘Listen’, has been badly translated as an asmaʿ ‘which could not be heard’ (ġayra musmaʿ)—which, according to Gobillot’s hypothesis, leads to a mispronunciation of the šema following the form of the Arabic asmaʿ into something inaudible like šmaʿ.18 It indeed really makes sense that the Qurʾān here complains that this translation into Arabic of the famous biblical sentence šema Israel is wrongly done. It seems to be an oral translation, but it could as well be a wrong written transcription that would render the word impossible to pronounce correctly—for Arabic speakers—such could be the meaning of ġayra musmaʿ. Then, the verse goes on to the case of a third biblical quotation, asking to replace rāʿinā by unurnā. This appears as well in Q II, 104b: “Do not say rāʿinā, but say unurnā, and listen”.19 The verb rāʿinā means ‘favor us’, which, as Gobillot points out, refers to the idea of election of the Banū Isrā’īl; the text seems to disapprove of the presence this idea here. Now, it seems that an original Hebrew verb of the Semitic root r-’-y, rā’i, meaning ‘Look at us’—probably with the meaning ‘Have mercy on us’, which appears in several biblical texts—has been mistranslated into rāʿinā, i.e. with the transformation of the hamza(’) into a ʿayn(ʿ). Thus what the Qurʾān says here is that it would be better to translate it by a synonym, for which no pronunciation mistake is possible: unurnā, ‘Look at us’, which, as well, is to be understood as ‘Have mercy on us’.20 Therefore, in this verse (Q IV, 46), the Jews here are accused of giving in the current language in use (Arabic) a meaning other than the one originally present in the written Torah in its original language. On the one hand, the expressions ‘do not say’/‘say’ seem to refer to an oral translation. Most plausibly, it indicates that when reading this written translation, one may pronounce it wrongly because the text has been wrongly transcribed (written down) by the Jewish translators from the Hebrew cognate to the Arabic corresponding letters. Gobillot’s hypothesis makes clear that here the qurʾānic text prompts one not to ‘transcribe’ the Torah directly by using the Arabic words having the same root as the Hebrew, but to ‘translate’ them, because a direct transcription from Hebrew script to Arabic script would falsify the meaning of the initial text or may lead to its unintentional falsification.

  • 21 Written in Arabic language most probably in Arabic script, but possibly too in Hebrew script or Sy (...)

13The later Islamic tradition seems quite silent about this qurʾānic statement that the Torah (or at least the Word of God in the version the Jews had) had been translated orally and/or in a written form to Muhammad and his milieu by some Jews, even if the Qurʾān mentions it only to complain that this was done in a corrupted way. Moreover, one could ask: why was it so important for the enunciator of the qurʾānic text that the Jewish revelation should be properly translated into Arabic? Why would the author(s) of the Qurʾān be so upset when the translation made by these Jews was not correct? What was at stake? Was it that the Torah had to be correctly translated, or on the opposite was there a need to use this as a ground for the accusation and rejection of these Jews? What was the role of these written translations of the Jewish scriptures in Arabic? Were these primarily intended to be part of the new revelation, or were they merely for internal use among the Jewish Arabic-speaking community? Was there some kind of concurrence between these and the on-going composition of the Qurʾān? Is this related as well to the transmission of Midrashic material and how far was(were) the author(s) of the Qurʾān aware of the existence of a Jewish exegetical production distinct from the written Torah? Apart from these questions, thus, Q IV, 46 does not seem to be tarīf maʿnawī (it would be if they would only have uttered a wrong Arabic translation when looking at the written Hebrew) but would most plausibly be some kind of specific tarīf being both tarīf maʿnawī and tarīf al-naṣṣ. Indeed if they wrote down the text in Arabic,21 it was not an alteration of the original Hebrew scripture but the creation of a written Arabic text presented as ‘the scripture of the Jews’, a translation, in which some meanings differed from the original Hebrew text. Moreover, whereas the wrong transcriptions and the wrong reading of these transcriptions seems to be non-intentional mistakes due to the linguistic proximity between Arabic and Hebrew, the text clearly tries to use them in a polemical charge against some Jews.

14Therefore, the analysis of the four verses does not enable us to choose, with entire certainty, one of the two tarīf options, even though tarīf al-naṣṣ seems to engender more support and that a third type implying a written translation to Arabic appears. But let me add a few remarks here.

15First, in the four verses, the targeted group is a group of Jews. Should we then understand the qurʾānic accusation of tarīf as directed against all Jews? And, if so, only against the Jews? To answer this, it is necessary to take the whole text into consideration. Moreover, in one of the four verses, the accusation of tarīf is directed at a group of ‘pagans from within the Jews’. Taken literally, this seems quite strange, especially when the text frequently uses the opposition between the people having a scripture and pagans. Rather, given the polemical style of the passage, this should most likely be understood as an accusation: the text accuses the Jews of being pagan, that is, of not knowing the scriptures, even if the text assumes that they do have a scripture. The same goes with the fact that transcription mistakes are used to accuse of falsification. This shows the importance of taking into account the tone of the text—a polemical tone—when trying to understand it.

16A second observation is that what these people did is clearly disapproved of in the text. The use of the expression ‘they twist their tongues’ shows that they do it on purpose. The text stresses their wickedness. Therefore, it seems that the accused are the people, not their scriptures: this would argue for tarīf maʿnawī. But, again, besides this, this shows that this entire question is related to hostility. This is important, as we will see.

17An initial conclusion can be drawn from the analysis of the four qurʾānic passages using the verb arrafa: besides the fact that no clear decision can be made regarding whether the qurʾānic text really states that there is a textual alteration of the Bible or whether it actually means something else, the remarks point in the direction of the importance of taking into account the textual context of the verses, its tone, and the whole Qurʾān. Let us focus now on method.

III. Method in Analyzing a Topic Within the Qurʾānic Text

Looking for Synonyms

18The analysis of the notion of ‘falsification’ in the Qurʾān can already proceed a bit further by looking at a synonym of arrafa: the verb baddala ‘to change, to alter’. Part of its use is clearly in conjunction with the idea of tarīf. Its analysis enables us to see, first, that God has absolute power and the ability to ‘change’ something, whatever that is (change from fear to security, and even replace a bad people with a good one…) and even to change a verse of the qurʾānic revelation into another one (Q XVI, 101). The analysis of baddala also shows that what is not good, according to the qurʾānic judgment, is to change faith into disbelief (Q II, 108), or to change the tidings of God into disbelief (Q XIV, 28), and more especially to change the word of God that has been given. This could have occurred in the past: this would then concern the Jews, who have not been faithful to their covenant with God. So here, yes, there is something about Jewish scriptural falsification, but this would seem to be imbedded in the whole idea of the disobedience of the Jews to the covenant they had with God:

  • 22 فَبَدَّلَ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا قَوْلاً غَيْرَ الَّذِي قِيلَ لَهُمْ فَأَنْزَلْنَا عَلَى الَّذِينَ ظَل (...)

The wrongdoers substituted (baddala) a different saying from the one that had been said to them. So We sent a plague down from the heavens upon the wrongdoers, because they were disobeying.22

  • 23 فَبَدَّلَ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ قَوْلاً غَيْرَ الَّذِي قِيلَ لَهُمْ فَأَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ (...)

The wrongdoers from among them substituted (baddala) a different saying from the one that had been said to them. So, We sent to them a plague from the heavens because they were evildoers.23

19The change of the words of God could also have occurred in the present time: this then would involve Muhammad’s contemporaries, who are now receiving the Qurʾān. They are called upon not to change the word of God, that is, the Qurʾān. For instance, some fighters were changing the order of God because of their appetite for war booty (Q XLVIII, 15), or another instance where Muslims are called upon to obey the qurʾānic laws about testament and not to change them (Q II, 181). Only God can change things, not Muhammad (Q X, 15); the argumentation indicates that the ability to change things is stressed here as being God’s attribute and not the attribute of any human, and, if humans do change things, they are doing wrong; this would hold more especially for Muhammad, who as a mere human could not have changed a word of the revelation given to him. The argument is designed to show here that Muhammad has transmitted a revealed text exactly as it was given to him, that he himself had no hand in it. From the study of this synonym for the verb arrafa, it immediately appears that the argumentation already goes quite far beyond the sole issue of biblical falsification.

The Necessity of Taking into Consideration the Whole Text

20As a result of this example, it becomes clear that any study restricted to an analysis of just those verses containing the verb arrafa ignores a substantial part of the information given by the qurʾānic text about its vision of the Bible and its alteration. Quite the contrary, a long investigation into the qurʾānic text is needed. I will now present results from such an analysis conducted at length, exhaustively, reading the text as a whole, analyzing its argumentative strategies, not only those which appear directly to be in relation to the topic of ‘previous scriptures’, but also those which relate to scriptural falsification indirectly, by way of ‘non-dits’ (unspoken assumptions).

21It is important to note that the following results are not about the effective relationship between the Qurʾān and previous scripture (intertextuality or re-use of biblical material in the Qurʾān) but about the way the Qurʾān itself describes its own relationship to these previous scriptures. It is the study of a discourse, not of a fact. On the level of interreligious dialogue, much misunderstanding between Muslims, Christians, and Jews might be avoided by taking this distinction into consideration.

The Necessity of Searching for the Author(s)’(s) Intention

  • 24 See discussion in Skinner, “Motives, Intentions, and the Interpretation”.

22My analysis, moreover, has attempted to understand the intention of the ‘author(s)’. This comes out of a conviction that, as in any text, ‘the meaning of the text’, or at least its most relevant meaning from the perspective of a historical study, is mainly to be found in the ideas that the author(s) wanted to convey to the audience or readership.24 What concepts and world vision did the author want to convey to the readers/listeners? What did he/she/they want to persuade them about? This understanding can be at least partially achieved by analyzing the argumentative and rhetorical strategies used in the text.

  • 25 See footnote 61, below, p. 29.
  • 26 Gobillot, “Des textes Pseudo-Clémentins à la mystique juive”.
  • 27 Reynolds, “On the Qurʾanic Accusation of Scriptural Falsification”.
  • 28 Gilliot, “Les ‘informateurs’ juifs et chrétiens de Muhammad”; “Le Coran production de l’antiquité t (...)
  • 29 Though a lot still needs to be done in this regards: the field of the study of intertextuality betw (...)

23Naturally, the Muslim vision is that the author (or rather, ‘the origin’) of the Qurʾān is God, whereas in the scholarly work of historians, and therefore in mine, the author is a human, a group of humans, or several groups at different periods. This clear-cut opposition in viewing the qurʾānic text when studying it, is of course, of importance and should not be ignored. On the one hand, both Islamic tradition and contemporary Islamic scholarship in faculties of Shariah—generally and broadly, though there are exceptions25—tend to ignore the intertextual relationships between the Qurʾān and the texts that preceded it, such as the biblical corpus, Ancient Near-East texts, parabiblical texts such as the apocryphal Gospels, the Talmud, Greek texts, etc. It seems clear that this position of Islamic tradition and Islamic modern scholarship is due to its submission to one of the central dogmas of Islam: the divine origin of the Qurʾān. This forbids any work that would suggest—or even allow the hypothesis of—another kind of origin for the qurʾānic text. On the other hand, modern scholarship (i.e. academic approach), based on a non-religious approach to history, has shown—and keeps working on—the fact that the Qurʾān is retelling narratives and reusing prescriptive, eschatological, and laudatory material, etc., from the biblical culture and, to a lesser extent, from the Greek and Persian cultures—and some material from Ancient Near East cultures (Assyrian, Babylonian) which were reused by biblical texts as well. With regard to the topic of the qurʾānic vision of the Bible, let me mention here a few works within this academic approach. First, Geneviève Gobillot26 has argued that the qurʾānic logic concerning the relationship to previous scriptures is copied from the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies. Second, Gabriel Reynolds27 has suggested that the qurʾānic anti-Jewish polemic about scriptural falsification is an imitation of early Christian polemical texts against the Jews, which could explain why the qurʾānic text directs most of its accusations against the Jews. A third example is the various works of Claude Gilliot28, dealing among other things about the collaborators of Muhammad regarding the composition of the Qurʾān. These works provide us some clues about where part of the qurʾānic ideas may come from. However, the understanding of these original ideas does not necessarily indicate the idea that the main ‘author’ of the text wanted to convey. In my view, information about reuse of previous material from Late Antiquity in the Qurʾān29 needs to be complemented by an analysis of the author’s (or the authors’) intention when using this material. This is the main element that informs us about the general meaning of the corpus and the exact contents of its dogma at the time of its main composition. At least, the argumentation about the status of the Qurʾān as expressed in the whole corpus—and that I will expound upon below—is very close to the traditional Muslim way of understanding the Qurʾān—up to today—in relation to previous scriptures.

24Applying this method to the topic of tarīf and of the qurʾānic vision of previous scriptures, the question is then not only, ‘what is said about previous scriptures?’, but rather, ‘when talking about these, what did the author of the text want the audience/readership to understand? Was he really talking only about this topic?’

IV. Presentation of the ‘Previous Scriptures’ in the Qurʾān

  • 30 Boisliveau, Le Coran par lui-même. Vocabulaire et argumentation du discours coranique autoréférenti (...)

25As is known, there is a widespread discourse in the qurʾānic text about the previous scriptures. For the sake of the argumentation, let us first remind, from my previous long-run study,30 which scriptures these are, how they are described (1.), which parallelism the discourse builds (2.), and whether the Qurʾān posits itself as ‘confirming’ them (3.). As said above, I am considering here the discourse of the Qurʾān, not its effective relation to these scriptures.

Qurʾānic Discourse About Previous Scriptures

Which Scriptures?

  • 31 Q III, 3, 48, 65; Q V, 46, 47, 66, 68, 110; Q VII, 157; Q IX, 111; Q XLVIII, 29; Q LVII, 27.
  • 32 Q V, 46 and Q LVII, 27.
  • 33 Q XXI, 105; Q XVII, 55; Q IV, 163.
  • 34 Gobillot, “Apocryphes de l’ancien et du nouveau Testament”, p. 58.
  • 35 Q XXV, 5.
  • 36 Radtke, “Wisdom”, p. 483.

26As is known, the qurʾānic text develops a discourse about scriptures which, it says, have been sent down by God ‘in previous times’,—i.e., before the time of the sending down of the current Qurʾān. More precisely, this discourse sometimes includes a general description of scriptures (kitāb, pl. kutub, ‘book’, ‘writ’, ‘scripture’, and maybe ‘Bible’) sent down to prophets, without giving more accurate information about the names of these prophets or scriptures. It also includes descriptions of scriptures that are given a name. In most occurrences, it deals with the ‘scripture of Moses’, identified as the scripture intended for ‘the Sons of Israel’ and as the Torah (tawrāt), i.e. the sacred scripture of the Jews. To a lesser extent, it deals with the inǧīl (namely in 12 verses31), referred to as the Gospel, the word inǧīl coming from the Greek evangelion. The tawrāt is considered to have been sent down by God to the prophet Moses, and the inǧīl to the prophet Jesus.32 Among the other scriptures mentioned are the zabūr,33 which, according to lexicological research and to the Islamic tradition, refers to the Book of Psalms and is considered by the latter to have been sent down to the prophet David, and the ‘sheets’ of Abraham and Moses; these two scriptures probably refer to the apocryphal writings respectively called The Testament of Abraham and The Testament and Death of Moses.34 But those last three scriptures are only mentioned very briefly. Furthermore, there is the mention of some ‘tales of the Ancients’;35 this has been interpreted by some as designating Persian writings, but this is far from certain. The text also mentions the ‘Wisdom’ as having been sent down to a prophet: it could refer to a ‘Book of Wisdom’ which might be biblical or not, but it could also simply refer to the wisdom bestowed upon the prophets.36

27Thus, the previous scriptures that the Qurʾānic text deals with are almost solely Judaic and Christian scriptures. Even though the Qurʾān presents some prophetical figures who are unknown in biblical texts, it seems not to mention any scriptures other than the Jewish or Christian ones. These are the landscape within which the Qurʾān develops its discourse.

Setting: Prophethood and Scriptures

28These scriptures are presented in a particular setting: they have been sent down by God to a prophet, i.e. a messenger. On the one hand the text talks about characters it calls ‘prophets’, most of them identified as biblical characters such as Moses, Jesus, David, Abraham, or Joseph, and others non-biblical such as Šuʿayb, Ṣāliḥ, or Hūd. The prophet overwhelmingly mentioned is Moses. On the other hand, when the text talks about prophets and scriptures without giving specific names, it does so through the presentation of a recurrent scenario. This scenario is: God sends a message down to a prophet, whom he sends to a people, and the people (or at least the majority of the people) do not listen to the prophet; then God punishes the people by destruction and hell, and saves the prophet. Thus, in this regard, when the text describes specifically the characters of Moses, Jesus, David, or Abraham, it deals with them in terms of this scenario. Even though the text mentions for each character the particular events which belong to their biblical and para-biblical stories, Moses and Jesus are considered as having this specific role of receiving a message from God in the form of a scripture, and as having to convey this message to a mainly reluctant people.

29We may note that the qurʾānic vision of the prophetic role is different from the one in the biblical culture. Part of the Christian culture is influenced by the Jewish culture, in which ‘prophets’ usually refer to men sent by God to warn the people of Israel against God’s wrath regarding their sins, and to communicate God’s decisions; following up, the Christian or post-Christian Western culture tends to see a ‘prophet’ as a person who foretells what events are set to happen in the future, so the term ‘prophecy’ means a foretelling—far from the qurʾānic definition.

Scriptures of High Status

30According to the qurʾānic text, the most important feature of these previous scriptures is their highly positive status. Their status (or place, identity) of revealed scripture is explained and highly praised: these scriptures have been brought by true prophets such as Moses and Jesus. They are, thus, the divine word, as they truly come from God. Therefore, they are described in highly positive terms: they are guidance for the people, a light, a benefaction, etc. And because of their divine origin, they are highly authoritative.

The Qurʾān Builds a Parallelism Between the Previous Scriptures and Itself

  • 37 Madigan, The Qurʾān’s Self-Image.
  • 38 Boisliveau, Le Coran par lui-même, p. 25‒40, especially p. 38‒40.

31Both these previous scriptures and the Qurʾān are called kitāb (book, scripture) by the qurʾānic text. Daniel Madigan has argued that kitāb, generally, does not refer in the Qurʾān to a written book or to a closed corpus but to a symbol of divine authority and knowledge.37 Countering this, I have argued that kitāb in the Qurʾān is, in most of its usages, meant to designate a revealed scripture, indeed not necessarily physically recorded, but really as a scripture ‘as the previous ones’—even though the word kitāb certainly bears the connotation indicated by Madigan.38

32More interestingly, the qurʾānic text develops striking parallels between its own descriptions and the descriptions of previous scriptures. These parallels are shaped by the use of both similar themes and similar formulas. The parallels involve, first, the source of the scriptures: all have been ‘sent down’ by God. Second, they involve the role ascribed to these scriptures: they are a godsend or benefaction (rama), a light (nūr), a healing (šifāʾ), an exhortation (mawʿia). In the following examples, the Qurʾān, the Torah, and the Gospel are called ‘guidance’ or ‘right way’ (hudā):

  • 39 إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَا التَّوْرَاةَ فِيهَا هُدًى وَنُورٌ Q V, 44a.

It was We who revealed the tawrāt: therein was guidance and light (Q V, 44a ).39

  • 40 وَقَفَّيْنَا عَلَى آَثَارِهِمْ بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّ (...)

And in their footsteps we sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the tawrāt that had come before him. We sent with him the inǧīl: therein is a guidance and a light (Q V, 46a).40

  • 41 الم (1) تِلْكَ آَيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ الْحَكِيمِ (2) هُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِلْمُحْسِنِينَ (3) الَّذِينَ يُق (...)

Alif, Lām, Mīm! These are signs of the wise scripture, a guidance and a mercy to the doers of good, those who establish regular prayer and give regular charity and have the assurance of the Hereafter (Q XXXI, 1‒4).41

  • 42 Boisliveau, Le Coran par lui-même, p. 277‒284.

33What can be noted first is the content of these general parallels: all the terms and sentences build a very positive idea of all the scriptures. What has been remarked about the highly positive status of the previous scriptures is also said about the status of the Qurʾān: this status conveys truth, absoluteness, supreme authority, while the vocabulary used is highly positive. Second, it is remarkable that this parallelism between the Qurʾān (as ‘what has been sent down upon you (Muhammad)’) and the previous scriptures is openly presented by the text. The ‘author’ not only expresses this parallelism but even makes clear that he is conscious of the fact that he is expressing it. The goal of the ‘author’ is to explain to the reader/listener what the Qurʾān is, and to provide a very positive and authoritative image for it: the image of previous scriptures. To put it another way, the previous scriptures are used as referents: by referring to them and to their status, the Qurʾān declares its own identity and authority.42

34Such a remark may seem simple; nevertheless it characterizes a predominant feature of the content of the qurʾānic text in general. A similar parallelism is going on in the text: the parallelism between Muhammad and the previous prophets, designed to present Muhammad as a genuine prophet receiving a communication from God. Both parallelisms go together, as the affirmation of the genuine prophethood of Muhammad generates the idea that the Qurʾān is truly revealed by God, and vice-versa. The conclusion of this is that this part of the discourse about previous scriptures is present in the text because the ‘author’ wants to make the listeners/readers believe in the highly positive status of the Qurʾān.

‘Confirmation’ of the Scriptures by the Qurʾān or ‘Similitude’?

  • 43 Ibid., p. 262‒276.
  • 44 Gobillot, “Des textes Pseudo-Clémentins à la mystique juive”, p. 13.

35An interesting point is that this strong parallel between the Qurʾān and previous scriptures also implies the notion of tadīq, ‘confirmation’, i.e. the idea that the Qurʾān ‘confirms’ the previous scriptures. The textual analysis of the use of tadīq and its synonyms43 shows that this does not mean that the Qurʾān is a ‘detailed explanation’ of previous scriptures. Such an idea seems clearly to have appeared from outside of the text, in some sort of later interpretation. As for the idea that it is a total ‘replacement’ for previous scriptures: it is also difficult to come to a clear conclusion in that regard, because the verses that are possibly saying this are equivocal. Such a verse is Q II, 106, which is used by the Islamic tradition to justify the juridical tool of abrogation but which might point either to the fact that demons corrupted some revelation and that God then corrected it (then a qurʾānic revelation, which is actually in the Qurʾān, would totally replace a previous altered qurʾānic revelation that is no longer part of the Qurʾān), or that God provides in the Qurʾān a better sign than in a previous scripture (then the Qurʾān would abrogate previous scriptures).44

36Rather than ‘detailed explanation’ of, or ‘replacement’ for, previous scriptures, the relationship between the Qurʾān and these scriptures can be considered as ‘confirmation’ in the sense of either ‘declaration of veracity, corroboration’, or ‘similitude, assimilation’. There are indeed two possibilities of interpretation: either the text states that it confirms the previous scriptures in their status of revealed scriptures, or the text states that it confirms the contents of these scriptures by providing the same contents, or by offering new proof for what they declare. In both cases, the Qurʾān is established as the only criterion that can attest that a scripture is really a scripture. The second possibility even implies that the Qurʾān and the Torah, the Gospel, etc., have the same content, or at least a content that points in the same direction.

37Now, these qurʾānic statements of the similitude between the contents of the Qurʾān and those of the Torah or the Gospel, and, even more so, the question of their confirmation, are indeed problematic when confronted by the reality of the differences between their texts. As soon as the scriptures of the Jews and Christians become known to the people reading or listening to the qurʾānic text, the idea of similitude creates a real paradox and raises real questions. As long as these scriptures are unknown and inaccessible, it is fine to use them as referents. But when the audience or readership has more access to, and knowledge of, the content of their texts, this becomes more problematic. This leads to a disqualification of the text of these scriptures that have been accessed: they are different from the qurʾānic text, and, therefore, since the Qurʾān is a real scripture and is the criterion for assessing whether a scripture is really a revealed scripture or not, they are not real scriptures. As a consequence of the presentation of the relationship between the Qurʾān and the previous scriptures, the scriptures to which the audience/readership of the Qurʾān has access become abruptly disqualified.

  • 45 See above the discussion of Q IV, 46. Moreover, the passage in which the text talks about ‘the Prop (...)

38Moreover, their disqualification is implicit: here it is not a statement in itself but a consequence of a statement of the text, a ‘non-dit’ that nonetheless is strongly persuasive. Indeed, it is noteworthy that the Qurʾān allows for the idea of similarity of content but never deals with this openly. In fact, the qurʾānic text uses, retells, and reformulates a substantial quantity of biblical material, not only in narratives but also in many other types of texts (hymns, eschatology, glorification, prescriptions, etc.): this intertextuality of the Qurʾān with biblical and para-biblical texts is widely documented. But the qurʾānic text quotes almost never directly the Bible or any para-biblical text and almost never openly says that it quotes it. When it rarely does so, it remains vague about which exact scripture it is quoting; it only suggests that it quotes a kitāb, but whether this kitāb is the Bible, or which book from the Bible this is, we are not told precisely.45 Rather, it seems that the question of similitude (in status or in contents) is left open. Is this done on purpose or due to some hesitation? In any case, the conclusion is that: whatever the idea intended by the use of tadīq and its synonyms (status or contents), the previous scriptures depend on their similarity with the Qurʾān to be acknowledged as real scriptures. These scriptures are implicitly and strongly disqualified, and the Qurʾān is thus implicitly and strongly the only one to receive the high and authoritative status.

39I will come back to these conclusions when analyzing the interplay of all the strategies used by the qurʾānic discourse. Another strategy of the text will now be considered: the abundant discourse using the vocabulary of ‘forgery’ and ‘lies’ (falsely ‘forging’ some text, or lying about it).

V. Accusations of ‘Forgery’ and ‘Lies’

Accusations of ‘Forgery’ and ‘Lies’ Connected to Jews and Christians

  • 46 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”.
  • 47 Gordon Nickel has analyzed even more vocabulary, such as labasa ‘to confound’, and verbs of conceal (...)

40Many passages accuse some people of ‘forgery’, i.e., first, of (1) being human and not God; second, of (2) creating/writing something (a text); and, third, of (3) attributing it to God, pretending that God is its author when He is not. The text accuses people of one of these three components, or of two, or of all three of them.46 People are also accused of ‘lies’, of perversity towards God and towards His scriptures. That is: to tell a lie about God by pretending that God did or said something, when it is not He who did or said it; and, in this way, to have God telling a lie, because the saying attributed to Him is not true, as it is not from God, and God speaks only the truth. Indeed, this is about revelation: someone has not been inspired by God but nevertheless pretends to have been. This is clearly linked to the idea of tarīf; see, for instance, Q II, 75‒79 quoted above. Among the vocabulary involved in this double accusation of forgery and lies is the verb iftarā ‘to forge’, and its synonyms italaqa and taqawwala, as well as the widely used verb kaḏḏaba, ‘to accuse someone of being a liar, to tell lies about someone, or to pretend falsely that someone said such and such’, and other terms linked to the concept of lies (kaib).47

41What is interesting is that most of these quite numerous passages waver between an accusation of forgery and of lies concerning precisely the revealed scriptures of the ‘people of the scripture’ (ahl al-kitāb), and accusations of forgery and lies concerning a general attitude towards God’s prescriptions. For instance, the following verse is a denunciation of the ingratitude of people who believe only when they need God’s assistance, and after this begin worshiping other gods:

  • 48 وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَى عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا أَوْ كَذَّبَ بِالْحَقِّ لَمَّا جَاءَهُ أَلَ (...)

Who could be more wicked than the person who invents (iftarā) lies (kaib) about God, or denies the truth when it comes to him? Is Hell not the home for the disbelievers?48

42Here the context of the surah, although being focused on the question of belief, points in the direction of conflict with those who previously received a revealed scripture—i.e. the Jews and the Christians—just a few verses before this verse (v. 45‒52). The same goes for this other verse:

  • 49 وَلَكِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا يَفْتَرُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَأَكْثَرُهُمْ لاَ يَعْقِلُونَ Q  (...)

But the disbelievers invent (iftarā) lies (kaib) about God; most of them do not use reason.49

  • 50 Cuypers, La composition du Coran.
  • 51 Cuypers, The Banquet, p. 261‒363.

43The direct context of the surrounding verses is about the explanation, by the text, of what really comes from God’s prescriptions and what does not: the text makes clear what God has laid down (such as the Kaʿba and the sacred months, Q V, 97), and what is not from God but from old Arab customs. The whole passage deals with licit and illicit food (Q V, 87‒96). The tension thus involves denouncing claims that a practice is a true revelation from God, when it is only a forgery from the ancestors. But a bit earlier in the surah, the same accusation is directed at the Jews and the Christians: they are called upon not to profess a doctrine that would be other than revealed, namely as in affirming that Jesus is one of the gods of a triad of three gods (Q V, 73‒77). Moreover, the whole tone of the surah is a sustained polemic against Jews and Christians: an analysis using the Semitic rhetoric method50 shows that this passage, which is a legislative code aimed at the believers, is inserted within a longer section (Q V, 72‒120) calling the ‘people of the scripture’, and more specifically the Christians, to reject their dogmatic errors and to convert to the pure monotheism of Islam.51 Therefore, once again, the context mixes accusations directed at any unfaithful believer (from among Muslims themselves), and directed at Jews and Christians in terms of the prescriptions and dogmas from their scriptures.

  • 52 Reynolds, “On the Qurʾanic Accusation of Scriptural Falsification”, p. 191.

44In some passages, the people targeted are explicitly the Jews. But, as in the text Christians are usually included among the ‘people of the scripture’, and as the textual context of part of these verses relates to Christians as well (just as in the passage just mentioned), it can be said that Christians are also targeted. Nevertheless, the general qurʾānic rhetoric is directed against the Jews quantitatively much more so than against the Christians. It is noteworthy that there is a discrepancy between the Qurʾān and later Islamic polemical literature, in which the people targeted are the Christians more often than the Jews.52

45More importantly, the multiple verses, present throughout the whole corpus, accusing people of forgery and lies, sound to the ears of the listener/reader like an echo of the verses that are usually involved when debating about scriptural falsification. In the listener’s or reader’s mind, the notion of modification of the text of the revelations (verses using the verb arrafa) is echoed by the very negative and extensive lexicon of forgery and lies. By the overlap of the discourse about scriptural falsification and the discourse about forgery and lies, the qurʾānic text shows clearly and sharply its disapproval of scriptural falsification. And as the text frequently states this in reference to the attitude of the Jews and Christians, the listener/reader immediately thinks that this highly negative falsification is the one Jews and Christians are doing to their scriptures. And he immediately connects it too to the implicit disqualification of scriptures that the idea of ‘confirmation’ has brought to his mind. The overall discourse on forgery and lies reinforces the disqualification of the previous scriptures, now considered falsified. This is how the dogma of biblical falsification appears in the mind of the reader/listener of the Qurʾān.

These Accusations are Part of a Rhetorical Construction Aiming at the Qurʾān

46Now, the topic of a forgery and the topic of lies are actually themselves addressed within a particular framework within the qurʾānic text. This framework can be explored by considering three components.

  • 53 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”, p. 136.

47First, the many accusations of forgery and lies are used in conjunction with what I call the ‘voice of the text’:53 the fact that in many verses, especially in verse endings, the text adopts an authoritative and omniscient voice, which comments on what has just been said, attributing positive and negative value to it. These are similar to the ‘asides’ in a theatrical play, ‘words spoken aside’. They authoritatively impose on the reader or the listener what is to be praised (for instance, the behavior of pious believers) and what is to be hated or rebuked (for instance, the behavior of wrongdoers or hypocrites). Here, these ‘words spoken aside’ clearly enhance the rhetorical strength of the verses using the vocabulary of forgery and lies. This rhetorical technique stresses the gravity of such an act: those who commit forgery and lies against God are horrendous evildoers. And listeners or readers of the Qurʾān are given the tools—and even more than this, are pointedly urged—to unmask fake scriptures that might have been forged, or to unmask people who have forged them.

48Second, a quick look at the textual context of these accusations shows that they also include the issue of the falsification of the Qurʾān. As I indicated when analyzing the use of tabdīl, the direct synonym of tarīf, the disapproved modifications of scriptures concern not only the previous scriptures but also all kinds of revelations, whether they be in a written or oral form, and whether they be previous scriptures or the ongoing Muhammadan revelations. This can be seen clearly when looking at several verses that make accusations of a forgery and lies. Such is the case with the following verse:

  • 54 وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَى عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا أَوْ قَالَ أُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ وَلَمْ يُوحَ إِل (...)

Who could be more wicked that the person who invents (iftarā) lies (kaib) against/about God, or claims “A revelation has come to me”, when nothing has been revealed to him, or says, “I too can send down [i.e., reveal] something equal to God’s revelation”. If you could only see the wicked in their death agonies (…). [You will be punished] for saying false things about God and for arrogantly [rejecting] His signs (Q VI, 93a‒c).54

49This is both related to an accusation directed against the ‘people of the scripture’ of ‘hiding’ part of the parchments of the scripture sent to Moses (v. 91), and to the defense of the authenticity of the revelation transmitted by Muhammad (v. 92). Therefore, the accusations of forgery and lies are to be understood within a general discourse concerning any kind of revelations including the one that the current prophet, Muhammad, is transmitting, i.e. the Qurʾān.

  • 55 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”, p. 134‒136.

50Third, as the analysis deepens, another important element of the qurʾānic discourse should be taken into consideration: the so-called ‘polemical passages’. These passages take the form of reported dialogues between the prophet bringing the Qurʾān (identified as Muhammad) and his opponents. They include the arguments of the opponents accusing Muhammad of not being a real prophet. Thus, in the text the reported attacks against Muhammad appear: he is accused of being a sorcerer, a soothsayer, or a poet inspired by jinns; he is also accused of having forged the Qurʾān.55 This latter accusation is exactly the same as the one seen within the general discourse on forgery and lies: it comprises the facts of being a mere human (1), of writing a text (2), and then of pretending it comes from God (3). Similarly, as in the general accusation of forgery and lies, the terms employed are mainly the terms from the root k--b, ‘to lie’, and the derived verbs from the verb iftarā, ‘to forge’, and its synonyms italaqa and taqawwala. And just as in the general accusation of forgery and lies, sometimes the text accuses Muhammad by stating only one of the steps comprised within the act of ‘forging’. For instance, here is a verse using the second step (the idea of writing down or copying a text which is being dictated) mixed with the first step (that the informants are only men, not God):

  • 56 وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِنْ هَذَا إِلَّا إِفْكٌ افْتَرَاهُ وَأَعَانَهُ عَلَيْهِ قَوْمٌ آَخَرُو (...)

But the misbelievers say: “Naught is this but a lie which he has forged, and others have helped him at it.” In truth it is they who have put forward an iniquity and a falsehood. (…) And they say: “Tales of the ancients, which he has written for himself: and they are dictated to him morning and evening” (Q XXV, 4a, 5).56

51Therefore, the general accusations of forgery and lies as present in the whole discourse are to be understood together with these accusations specifically directed at Muhammad.

  • 57 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”, p. 134.
  • 58 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”, p.137‒138. Additionally, see Azaiez, Le contre-discours coran (...)

52Now, in the polemical passages, the accusations directed against the genuineness of the prophethood of Muhammad are accompanied by accusations directed against the divine origin of the Qurʾān.57 Evidently, these are the two sides of the same idea: the authoritativeness of the Qurʾān. The polemical passages are composed in a lively style, intertwined with negative comments about the behavior of the opponents, mockery, threats, challenges directed towards the opponents and, more importantly, precise responses to their attacks through rebuttal and counter-accusation58. The text presents a strong refutation of the idea that Muhammad—or other men—could have authored the recitations and could be falsely attributing them to God. The purpose of these passages is to provide the listener/reader with arguments to defeat accusations that may be directed against the idea that Muhammad really brings a true revelation.

53It appears clear now that the general accusations of forgery and lies directed at any wrongdoer mentioned in the previous section have been included in the qurʾānic text as a response to the topic of forgery and lies within the polemical passages: the text uses them to respond to the allegations directed (or expected to be later directed) at the prophet Muhammad and the authenticity of the revelations he brings. Indeed, the text is very well structured and responds either a bit further on in the text, or even earlier, and in the same surah. Here the ‘voice of the text’ plays its essential role: it replies to the potential accusations directed against Muhammad and his recitation, building a counter-argumentation.

54In other words, the general accusations of forgery and lies, which look like accusations directed at previous scriptures, are indeed designed to reply to accusations of forgery and lies towards the Muhammadan revelations. In fact, in depth, they concern the Qurʾān, not the previous scriptures. The goal of the general qurʾānic discourse using the strong vocabulary of forgery and lies is to make the readers/listener aware of the objections that could be made to the authority of the Qurʾān and how to refuse or refute them. No main concern there about the biblical scriptures.

VI. Conclusions

55The methodological choice of considering the text as a whole and of investigating into the ‘author’s’ goals concerning previous scriptures (section III: Method in Anamyzing a Topic) was fruitful. Indeed, a detailed analysis of these elements (section IV: general presentation of previous scriptures; section V: general discourse on forgery and lies, and their interplay), has brought about four important results.

A paradox Within the Qurʾānic Discourse

56The first conclusion is that the qurʾānic discourse about previous scriptures is paradoxical. On the one hand, the conclusion which stems out of the general description of the previous scriptures (IV.1. and IV.2.) is that the Qurʾān develops a very positive discourse about them. They are explicitly highly praised; they are said to have a high status: since God has sent them down, they have an ultimate authority. On the other hand, the discourse of the Qurʾān includes a double disqualification of these previous scriptures, echoing the uncertain passages using the verb arrafa (2):

  • An explicit disqualification, by the repeated notions of forgery and lies, and the strong disapproval of the text towards these practices which are put in contexts related to the attitude of Jews and Christians (V.1.).
  • A more implicit disqualification, when the Qurʾān is established as the only criterion for the status and/or contents of a true scripture (IV.3.), thus generating de facto disqualification of scriptures because they differ from the Qurʾān.

57Therefore, the qurʾānic discourse about the previous scriptures is paradoxical: on the one hand, it praises them highly, and, on the other hand, it strongly disqualifies them.

The Idea of ‘Falsification of the Bible’: A Way to Deal with this Paradox

  • 59 See for instance: Al-Jazaʾiry, Minhaj Al-Muslim, part I, chapter 4.
  • 60 Idem.
  • 61 Idem, part I, chapter 5.

58Thus, when the later Islamic literature developed this idea of written falsification of the scriptures by the Jews and the Christians, it was indeed logical; it was the logical way out of the problem raised by this paradox within the qurʾānic text. It was even already strongly suggested by the qurʾānic calls to unmask forgery, calls echoing the qurʾānic condemnation of dogmatic errors of the Jews and the Christians. The ‘praise and disqualification’ discourse leads to the ‘belief in the scriptures and no reading of them’, and does not appear paradoxical at all thanks to the possibility of alteration of the previous scriptures. To this very day, the double attitude towards the previous scriptures is a very important feature of main-trend Islamic belief; and thanks to the idea of possible alteration of the Bible, it does not appear paradoxical to the believers anymore. On the one hand, it is part of the official creed, expressed in the works of the discipline of ʿaqīda or dogmatic exposition of the faith (also called ʿilm al-tawīd), to ‘acknowledge the scriptures that God has previously sent down’.59 And on the other hand, it is also part of the belief, even though less directly expressed because of the implicit character of the qurʾānic discourse about it, that the scriptures the Jews and Christians possess may not be read without an extreme cautiousness and suspicion because their text may be, or is, altered. What is more explicitly expressed is that the Qurʾān is the most important book that surpasses and abrogates all the previous scriptures.60 The law it brings is the most complete.61

59The two faces of the paradox have been so used to be solved by the idea of falsification that they cannot be expressed one independently from the other. If someone states that the Qurʾān generates contempt towards the previous scriptures, his argument will be quite automatically contradicted—by Muslims—thanks to the verses that prompt the believers to believe in the scriptures of God (Q II, 185; cf. also Q IV, 136), or even more explicitly in the scripture that God has sent in the past (Q IV, 136). On the contrary, if someone expresses a full confidence in reading the Torah or the Gospel as a source of Islamic belief, he will be immediately reminded by Muslims that the Qurʾān is the only totally valuable revelation, will be called to cautiousness or will be advised against these readings, like the Egyptian client of the taʿmiyya restaurant, or even forbidden to access these scriptures, as in certain countries applying a strict version of Islamic law. No side of the paradox can stand alone, they are necessarily bound together. Moreover, in general, the two faces of the paradox are not seen as a paradox within Islamic circles: they are seen as two automatically related dogmas which form one single coherent idea.

  • 62 This should be moderated by the fact that in Islam exists an ancient tradition of referring directl (...)

60Such double belief can engender problems within interreligious dialogue. At times, Jews and Christians when asking Muslims how they consider the Torah or the Bible may be quite surprised, or even upset and angry, at the Muslim reaction. While the first answer would generally be to say that Muslims believe in the scriptures and respect them, a later discussion may lead to the understanding that most Muslims generally have a strong lack of interest, if not some caution or some contempt, for the vernacular contemporary translations of the Bible and even for its original Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic texts.62 Jews or Christians may perceive this paradoxical attitude as being an affront or a disingenuous claim, whereas on the Muslim side, this does not appear as paradoxical at all, for the reason mentioned above. Here, the misunderstanding between Muslims and the other believers may be total, following the features of the qurʾānic discourse.

Ambiguity of tarīf maʿnawī

  • 63 Whittingham, “The Value of taḥrīf maʿnawī”.

61So long as the Qurʾān is being assumed to be the criterion for deciding whether other texts are scriptures or not, the tarīf maʿnawī option cannot stand. Because the biblical texts necessarily differ from the Qurʾān, and their dogma differ, they, in case the Qurʾān is the criterion, can only have been textually falsified (not just their interpretation). Just as has been pointed out as far as the author of al-Radd al-jamīl (probably a Pseudo-Ġazālī) and Ibn Ḫaldūn are concerned, what is called tarīf maʿnawī is indeed not maʿnawī but about the text. The only difference from the fierce condemnation of tarīf al-naṣṣ is that the supporters of tarīf maʿnawī instead say that the falsification has come about accidentally, by mistake, on the part of the scribe or by misunderstanding of the text, and not intentionally.63

  • 64 Ibid.

62Even further, it can be said that the partisans of the tarīf maʿnawī are people who, between the two opposite parts of the qurʾānic discourse on scriptures, choose to stress the positive vision: the praise of previous scripture. This is also the reason why al-Ġazālī and Ibn Ḫaldūn, even as they argue for the positive status of the Bible and its non-alteration, could not openly rely on the biblical text and quote it.64 They fell into the above-mentioned logic: they were not allowed—or did not allow themselves—to express only one of the two faces of the paradox.

The Focus of this Discourse: The Qurʾān, not the Bible

63Now, the causes of the paradoxical qurʾānic statement can be investigated by looking at its consequences. First, the consequence of the highly positive discourse on previous scriptures (section IV.1.), as the Qurʾān draws a parallelism between them and itself (section IV.2.), is that the Qurʾān itself benefits from this high status as well. Second, the consequence of the explicit (section V.) and implicit (section IV.3.) disqualifications of the previous scriptures is that the Qurʾān remains the only scripture that can be used effectively, since the others have been corrupted and/or falsely attributed to God. As a result of these two paradoxical components of the qurʾānic discourse, the Qurʾān enjoys a monopoly of the positive and authoritative status of scripture. This statement is of huge importance. It is the basis for one of the most central dogmas of Islam: the proclaimed absolute authority of the Qurʾān over any other text, as being the word of the almighty and unique God.

64Here comes about the crucial point I want to stress. The reasons for such a discourse are to be found in its goal: the text talks about previous scriptures because it wants to talk about itself. In other words, the qurʾānic statements about previous scriptures are in fact about what the ‘author(s)’ of the Qurʾān want(s) the listeners/readers to believe about the Qurʾān—and not primarily about the Bible. As has been shown in section V.2., the Qurʾān accuses people of forgery and lies because it is responding to the accusations that could be made about the veracity of the Qurʾān. The goal is to protect the Qurʾān from the accusation of having been forged and falsely attributed to God.

  • 65 Nevertheless, the ‘author(s)’ of the Qurʾān may have reused primary material coming from some sect (...)

65The analysis can even go one step further and show that the definition of ‘what is a scripture’ given by qurʾānic text is the definition the ‘author(s)’ want(s) the listeners/readers to have about the Qurʾān. It reflects neither the way the Torah and the Gospel were seen by the Jews and the Christians,65 nor even, at least primarily, the way the Torah and the Gospel were to be understood. The essential aim of the text, or at least its primary aim, was to explain and prove what it was, not what these previous scriptures were. The text was meant to provide support for its own identity—and power—and not to focus on others’ scriptures. But this focus, chosen by the ‘author(s)’, on the identity and power of the new scripture implies both the praise and the disqualification of the other scriptures, together with their new definition—an Islamic definition.

  • 66 Hawting, “Eavesdropping on the Heavenly Assembly”.
  • 67 Kohlberg, Amir-Moezzi (eds.), Revelation and Falsification.
  • 68 Newby, “Forgery”, p. 243.

66Two external elements support the idea that this whole argumentation about falsification, corruption, and correction of the qurʾānic text seems to have been of great importance at the time of its composition and collection. The first, alluded to in the Qurʾān, is the question of the revision of the qurʾānic text by God himself via abrogation of previous verses, or the correction by God of the demonic inspiration that had been introduced in the text by mistake.66 The second is that accusations of falsification of the qurʾānic text during its process of canonization were expressed within the early Muslim community by early Shiʿi writers67 and by Khariji groups.68

67In conclusion, the disqualification of the previous scriptures within the qurʾānic text, and even more so, the idea of their falsification—as the subsequent logical way out this both disqualifying and praising discourse—did not come about because of animosity but rather, as an indirect consequence of the qurʾānic discourse about itself. When the paradox is faced and its causes investigated, one would discover that the goal is the praise of the Qurʾān and the justification of its authority (and not primarily an incrimination of the Bible).

68Contrary to the attitude of adopting the tarīf maʿnawī, which at first may seem a nice way to deal with the problem, but deliberately chooses to ignore parts of the qurʾānic text, this conclusion can be used in interreligious dialogue with much benefit—and does not neglect parts of the qurʾānic text. Surely this conclusion does not pretend that the composition/apparition of the qurʾānic text did not create a strong tension in the early Islamic period: the Qurʾān indeed precisely challenged the pretention of biblical—both Christian and Jewish—scriptures to transmit the divine Word, by establishing its own monopoly of divine communication. These tensions appeared already in the very text, as can be clearly outlined from its persistent polemical tone. But this conclusion may contribute today to moderate such tension between the communities who inherited these concurrent scriptures, and for whom these scriptures are authoritative. All sides may understand better how the Islamic idea of biblical falsification came out, not out of animosity but as a way out to deal with the qurʾānic argumentation about itself. Muslims may admit more easily how their qurʾānic-based belief about previous scriptures may seem paradoxical from an external point of view, and may be more able to explain where it comes from; while Jews and Christian are called for more consideration for the good intentions and sincerity on the part of contemporary Muslim believers in their view of the Bible. By taking more note of the origins of the tarīf idea, all sides may be able to face the confrontation of their respective scriptures without moderating or hiding parts of their beliefs—hopefully, remembering as well that this confrontation of scriptures and this competition for monopoly of divine authority should never be a reason for violence.

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Bibliographie

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Al-Jazaʾiry, A.B.J., Minhaj Al-Muslim (The Way of the Muslim), 2 vols., Riyadh, Dar-us-Salam Publications, 2001.

Azaiez, Mehdi, Le contre-discours coranique, Berlin, De Gruyter, 2015.

Blachère, Régis (transl.), Le Coran, Paris, Maisonneuve et Larose, 2005 [reprint of the 1956 ed. Blachère also published a 3-vols. edition, respectively Introduction au Coran (1947), Le Coran. Traduction nouvelle vol. 2, 1949 and Le Coran. Traduction nouvelle vol. 3, 1950—the cover says 1951].

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Block, C. Jonn, “Philoponian Monophysitism in South Arabia at the Advent of Islam with Implications for the English Translation of ‘Thalātha’ in Qurʾān 4.171 and 5.73”, Journal of Islamic Studies 23: 1, 2012, p. 50‒75.

Boisliveau, Anne-Sylvie, “Polemics in the Koran: The Koran’s Negative Argumentation over its Own Origin”, Arabica 60, 2013, p. 131‒145.

Boisliveau, Anne-Sylvie, Le Coran par lui-même. Vocabulaire et argumentation du discours coranique autoréférentiel, Leiden, Brill, 2014.

Cuypers, Michel, Le Festin. Une lecture de la sourate al-Māʾida, coll. Rhétorique sémitique, Paris, Lethielleux, 2007. [English translation: The Banquet. A Reading of the Fifth Sura of the Qurʾān, Miami, Convivium, 2009.]

Cuypers, Michel, La composition du Coran: Nazm al-Qurʾān, Pendé (France), Gabalda, 2012.

De Prémare, Alfred-Louis, Aux origines du Coran. Questions d’hier, approches d’aujourd’hui, Paris, Téraèdre, 2004.

El-Badawi, Emran Iqbal, The Qur’ân and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions, Londres, New York, Routledge, 2014.

Gilliot, Claude, “Les ‘informateurs’ juifs et chrétiens de Muhammad. Reprise d’un problème traité par Aloys Sprenger et Theodor Nöldeke”, Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 22, 1998, p. 84‒126.

Gilliot, Claude, “Le Coran production de l’antiquité tardive ou Mahomet interprète dans le ‘lectionnaire arabe’ de La Mecque”, Revue des Mondes Musulmans et de la Méditerranée 129, 2011, p. 31‒56.

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Gilliot, Claude, « Mohammed’s exegetical activity in the Meccan Arabic lectionary », in Segovia, Carlos and Lourié, Basil (eds.), The Coming of the Comforter: When, where and to whom. Studies on the rise of Islam and various other topics in Memory of John Wansbrough, Piscataway NJ, Gorgias Press, 2012, p. 399‒425. 

Gobillot, Geneviève, art. “Apocryphes de l’ancien et du nouveau Testament”, in Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi (dir.), Dictionnaire du Coran, Paris, Robert Laffont, 2007, p. 57‒63.

Gobillot, Geneviève, “Des textes Pseudo-Clémentins à la mystique juive des premiers siècles et du Sinaï à Ma’rib », in C. Segovia and B. Lourié (eds.), The Coming of the Comforter: When, Where and to Whom. Studies on the Rise of Islam and Various Other Topics in Memory of John Wansbrough, Piscataway NJ, Gorgias Press, 2012, p. 3‒90.

Gobillot, Geneviève, “L’abrogation selon le Coran à la lumière des homélies pseudo-clémentines”, in Mehdi Azaiez & Sabrina Mervin (eds.), Le Coran, nouvelles approches, Paris, CNRS éditions, 2013, p. 207‒240.

Greifenhagen, F.V., “Scripture Wars: Contemporary Polemical Discourses of Bible Versus Qurʾān on the Internet”, Comparative Islamic Studies 6.1/6.2, 2010, p. 23‒65.

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Hawting, Gerald, “Eavesdropping on the Heavenly Assembly and the Protection of the Revelation from Demonic Corruption”, in Stefan Wild (dir.), Self-Referentiality in the Qurʾān, Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 2006, p. 25‒37.

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Kohlberg, Etan and Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad Ali (eds.), Revelation and Falsification. The Kitāb al-qirāʾt of Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Sayyārī, Leiden, Brill, 2009.

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Notes

1  This article is an expanded version of a paper delivered at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting (Amsterdam), 2012.

2 Greifenhagen, “Scripture Wars”.

3 Nickel, Narratives of Tampering, p. 1.

4 Lowin, “Revision and Alteration”, p. 451; Whittingham, “The Value of taḥrīf maʿnawī (corrupt interpretation)”; and extensively: Nickel, Narratives of Tampering, p. 1‒14.

5 Arabic-speaking Christians call Jesus Yasūʿ and Arabic-speaking Muslims call him ʿĪsā.

6 Reynolds, “On the Qurʾanic Accusation of Scriptural Falsification”, p. 194.

7 Gril, “Livres saints”, p. 488.

8 يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ وَنَسُوا حَظًّا مِمَّا ذُكِّرُوا بِهِ وَلاَ تَزَالُ تَطَّلِعُ عَلَى خَائِنَةٍ مِنْهُمْ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً مِنْهُمْ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ Q V, 13b.

9 يَا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ لاَ يَحْزُنْكَ الَّذِينَ يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْكُفْرِ مِنَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا آَمَنَّا بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَلَمْ تُؤْمِنْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا سَمَّاعُونَ لِلْكَذِبِ سَمَّاعُونَ لِقَوْمٍ آَخَرِينَ لَمْ يَأْتُوكَ يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَوَاضِعِهِ يَقُولُونَ إِنْ أُوتِيتُمْ هَذَا فَخُذُوهُ وَإِنْ لَمْ تُؤْتَوْهُ فَاحْذَرُوا وَمَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ فِتْنَتَهُ فَلَنْ تَمْلِكَ لَهُ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا أُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ أَنْ يُطَهِّرَ قُلُوبَهُمْ لَهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا خِزْيٌ وَلَهُمْ فِي الآْخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ Q V, 41.

10 أَفَتَطْمَعُونَ أَنْ يُؤْمِنُوا لَكُمْ وَقَدْ كَانَ فَرِيقٌ مِنْهُمْ يَسْمَعُونَ كَلاَمَ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُحَرِّفُونَهُ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا عَقَلُوهُ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ (…) وَمِنْهُمْ أُمِّيُّونَ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ الْكِتَابَ إِلاَّ أَمَانِيَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلاَّ يَظُنُّونَ (78) فَوَيْلٌ لِلَّذِينَ يَكْتُبُونَ الْكِتَابَ بِأَيْدِيهِمْ ثُمَّ يَقُولُونَ هَذَا مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ لِيَشْتَرُوا بِهِ ثَمَنًا قَلِيلاً فَوَيْلٌ لَهُمْ مِمَّا كَتَبَتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَوَيْلٌ لَهُمْ مِمَّا يَكْسِبُونَ (79) Q II, 75, 78‒79.

11 مِنَ الَّذِينَ هَادُوا يُحَرِّفُونَ الْكَلِمَ عَنْ مَوَاضِعِهِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا وَاسْمَعْ غَيْرَ مُسْمَعٍ وَرَاعِنَا لَيًّا بِأَلْسِنَتِهِمْ وَطَعْنًا فِي الدِّينِ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا وَاسْمَعْ وَانْظُرْنَا لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُمْ وَأَقْوَمَ وَلَكِنْ لَعَنَهُمُ اللَّهُ بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَلاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً Q IV, 46.

Translations are inspired by those of Abdel Haleem, 2010, and of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, 2000, but have been modified to be more precise and thanks to the article of Gobillot, “L’abrogation selon le Coran”, see below.

12 Gobillot, “L’abrogation selon le Coran”, for all the analysis of this verse.

13 וְשָׁמַעְנוּ וְעָשִׂינוּ . Gobillot (“L’abrogation selon le Coran”, p. 215) rightly remarks that Speyer (Die biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran, p. 301) wrote the reference was 5: 24 probably because 5: 27 deals with the 24th commandment, and that Paret (Kommentar und Konkordanz, p. 24) repeats the mistake. I noticed that Blachère (Le Coran, 1956, p. 112) also reproduced it; though in his 1950’s edition (vol. 3, p. 939) he remarks it, suggesting it may be due to a different verse numbering in the biblical versions.

14 כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה.

15 Newby, “Forgery”, p. 243.

16  This difficulty to identify the biblical passage mostly comes from the fact that most translators think asmaʿ and unẓurnā belong to the same biblical quotation.

17 שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל.

18 I suggest it could be the opposite, something like an asmaʿ pronounced in the šema way, thus, sema; anyway the result is the same.

19 لاَ تَقُولُواْ رَاعِنَا وَقُولُواْ انظُرْنَا وَاسْمَعُوا.

20 Generally, until today, asmaʿ ġayra musmaʿ is understood and translated as ‘Listen may you not hear’ (as if an insult had been added to ‘Listen’) (Abdel Haleem), or ‘Hear what is not heard’ (Yusuf Ali); and rāʿinā is usually understood as ‘Look at us’ (Abdel Haleem) or ‘Listen to us’ (Pickthall).

21 Written in Arabic language most probably in Arabic script, but possibly too in Hebrew script or Syriac script, as Arabic language has been written down in alphabets of other languages for centuries before the apparition of its own alphabet—which is usually dated not very long before the composition of the qurʾānic text.

22 فَبَدَّلَ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا قَوْلاً غَيْرَ الَّذِي قِيلَ لَهُمْ فَأَنْزَلْنَا عَلَى الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا رِجْزًا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْسُقُونَ Q II, 59.

23 فَبَدَّلَ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْهُمْ قَوْلاً غَيْرَ الَّذِي قِيلَ لَهُمْ فَأَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ رِجْزًا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ بِمَا كَانُوا يَظْلِمُونَ Q VII, 162.

24 See discussion in Skinner, “Motives, Intentions, and the Interpretation”.

25 See footnote 61, below, p. 29.

26 Gobillot, “Des textes Pseudo-Clémentins à la mystique juive”.

27 Reynolds, “On the Qurʾanic Accusation of Scriptural Falsification”.

28 Gilliot, “Les ‘informateurs’ juifs et chrétiens de Muhammad”; “Le Coran production de l’antiquité tardive”; “The ‘Collections’ of the Meccan Arabic Lectionary”; “Mohammed’s Exegetical Activity”.

29 Though a lot still needs to be done in this regards: the field of the study of intertextuality between the Qurʾān and previous texts of Late Antiquity is very large and not many in-depth analyses have been published yet, despite the works by El-Badawi, The Qur’ân and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions, and by Reynolds, The Qurʾān and Its Biblical Subtext.

30 Boisliveau, Le Coran par lui-même. Vocabulaire et argumentation du discours coranique autoréférentiel, 2014, p. 233‒300.

31 Q III, 3, 48, 65; Q V, 46, 47, 66, 68, 110; Q VII, 157; Q IX, 111; Q XLVIII, 29; Q LVII, 27.

32 Q V, 46 and Q LVII, 27.

33 Q XXI, 105; Q XVII, 55; Q IV, 163.

34 Gobillot, “Apocryphes de l’ancien et du nouveau Testament”, p. 58.

35 Q XXV, 5.

36 Radtke, “Wisdom”, p. 483.

37 Madigan, The Qurʾān’s Self-Image.

38 Boisliveau, Le Coran par lui-même, p. 25‒40, especially p. 38‒40.

39 إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَا التَّوْرَاةَ فِيهَا هُدًى وَنُورٌ Q V, 44a.

40 وَقَفَّيْنَا عَلَى آَثَارِهِمْ بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ التَّوْرَاةِ وَآَتَيْنَاهُ الإْنْجِيلَ فِيهِ هُدًى وَنُورٌ Q V, 46a.

41 الم (1) تِلْكَ آَيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ الْحَكِيمِ (2) هُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِلْمُحْسِنِينَ (3) الَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلاَةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَهُمْ بِالآْخِرَةِ هُمْ يُوقِنُونَ (4) Q XXXI, 1‒4.

42 Boisliveau, Le Coran par lui-même, p. 277‒284.

43 Ibid., p. 262‒276.

44 Gobillot, “Des textes Pseudo-Clémentins à la mystique juive”, p. 13.

45 See above the discussion of Q IV, 46. Moreover, the passage in which the text talks about ‘the Prophet-the gentile messenger [Muhammad] they find “written” (or: “prescribed, described”) in the Torah that is with them and in the Gospel, who commends them to do right and forbids them to do wrong, who makes good things lawful to them and bad things unlawful, and relieves them of their burdens’ (Q VII, 157), is quite difficult: no passage of the canonized Torah and the canonized Gospels clearly mentions a future ‘gentile messenger and prophet, who commends to do right and forbids to do wrong, who makes good things lawful and bad things unlawful, etc.’ Through indirect interpretation, the Islamic tradition has proposed several biblical quotations it would refer to, among which the description of the Paraclete (Comforter, an appellation of the Holy Spirit) in the Gospel of John (14: 16, 26; 15: 26; 16: 7): this interpretation uses the Greek word parakletos as if it were an Arabic word, changing its vowels to periklytos—which is not possible in Greek—and from then interpreting it as referring to Muhammad. See also Witztum, “Ibn Isḥāq and the Pentateuch in Arabic”.

46 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”.

47 Gordon Nickel has analyzed even more vocabulary, such as labasa ‘to confound’, and verbs of concealing (katama, asarra, a) (Nickel 2011, 52‒60).

48 وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَى عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا أَوْ كَذَّبَ بِالْحَقِّ لَمَّا جَاءَهُ أَلَيْسَ فِي جَهَنَّمَ مَثْوًى لِلْكَافِرِينَ Q XXIX, 68.

49 وَلَكِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا يَفْتَرُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَأَكْثَرُهُمْ لاَ يَعْقِلُونَ Q V, 103b.
See also: وَإِنَّ مِنْهُمْ لَفَرِيقًا يَلْوُونَ أَلْسِنَتَهُمْ بِالْكِتَابِ لِتَحْسَبُوهُ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَيَقُولُونَ هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ وَمَا هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ Q III, 78.
بَلْ كَذَّبُوا بِمَا لَمْ يُحِيطُوا بِعِلْمِهِ وَلَمَّا يَأْتِهِمْ تَأْوِيلُهُ كَذَلِكَ كَذَّبَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ فَانْظُرْ كَيْفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الظَّالِمِينَ Q X, 39.

50 Cuypers, La composition du Coran.

51 Cuypers, The Banquet, p. 261‒363.

52 Reynolds, “On the Qurʾanic Accusation of Scriptural Falsification”, p. 191.

53 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”, p. 136.

54 وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَى عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا أَوْ قَالَ أُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ وَلَمْ يُوحَ إِلَيْهِ شَيْءٌ وَمَنْ قَالَ سَأُنْزِلُ مِثْلَ مَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ وَلَوْ تَرَى إِذِ الظَّالِمُونَ فِي غَمَرَاتِ الْمَوْتِ (...) بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَكُنْتُمْ عَنْ آَيَاتِهِ تَسْتَكْبِرُونَ Q VI, 93a‒c.

55 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”, p. 134‒136.

56 وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِنْ هَذَا إِلَّا إِفْكٌ افْتَرَاهُ وَأَعَانَهُ عَلَيْهِ قَوْمٌ آَخَرُونَ (...) (4) وَقَالُوا أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ اكْتَتَبَهَا فَهِيَ تُمْلَى عَلَيْهِ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًا (5) Q XXV, 4a, 5. Q XXV, 4‒5; see also Q XVI, 103; Q XLIV, 14.

57 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”, p. 134.

58 Boisliveau, “Polemics in the Koran”, p.137‒138. Additionally, see Azaiez, Le contre-discours coranique.

59 See for instance: Al-Jazaʾiry, Minhaj Al-Muslim, part I, chapter 4.

60 Idem.

61 Idem, part I, chapter 5.

62 This should be moderated by the fact that in Islam exists an ancient tradition of referring directly to the Bible in order to interpret or explain parts of the Qurʾān. Nevertheless, most of the way in which the Bible was viewed by medieval Muslim writers was polemical anti-biblical literature (See Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds: Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism; Adang, Muslim Writers on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible: From Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm). One of the main goal of these writers when using biblical material was to show how, as stated in the Qurʾān (Q VII, 157, Q II, 129, Q LXI, 6), the Bible is supposed to announce the coming of Prophet Muhammad. This polemical trend continues until today. More especially, the findings of Biblical criticism in ‘Western’ academia regarding hypotheses of composition, rewriting, emendation and commentary of biblical texts are regularly used by contemporary Muslim thinkers to prove the physical falsification of the Bible. Despite this main trend, a few Muslim writers have strongly argued for the genuineness of the Bible and for the use of its study to develop qurʾānic exegesis—for instance al-Biqāʿī (xvth century Muslim exegete) (see Saleh, In Defence of the Bible: A Critical Edition and an Introduction to al-Biqāʿī’s Bible Treatise). This tradition continued among modern and contemporary Muslim intellectuals, such as the Indian writer Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817‒1898).

63 Whittingham, “The Value of taḥrīf maʿnawī”.

64 Ibid.

65 Nevertheless, the ‘author(s)’ of the Qurʾān may have reused primary material coming from some sectarian trends of Christianity and Judaism (see Block, “Philoponian Monophysitism”).

66 Hawting, “Eavesdropping on the Heavenly Assembly”.

67 Kohlberg, Amir-Moezzi (eds.), Revelation and Falsification.

68 Newby, “Forgery”, p. 243.

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Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau, « Qurʾānic Discourse on the Bible », MIDÉO, 33 | 2018, 3-38.

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Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau, « Qurʾānic Discourse on the Bible », MIDÉO [En ligne], 33 | 2018, mis en ligne le 05 juillet 2018, consulté le 13 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/mideo/1819

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Auteur

Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau

Université de Strasbourg

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Institut Dominicain d'Études Orientales

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